Keys to Branding Your Small Business
By Jay Lipe

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, a rancher would mark his cattle with a
brand. This brand, depicting an image unique to his ranch, distinguished his cattle
from another’s in the event of a broken fence.

Branding, in today’s modern marketing world, operates much the same way. It seeks
to distinguish a product or service from the competition and create a lasting
impression in a prospect’s mind.

Pay dear attention to your branding programs from the outset because they work to
strengthen the “link of trust” between your company and its buyers.

Shaping your brand image

To start, consider first the personality of your company. Is it sexy or sweet? Tough or
tender? Is it more like John Wayne or George Clooney or Andy Griffith? And if you
think all this is hooey, consider these questions: Do Marlboros really taste better than
other cigarettes? Is H&R Block superior to the tax accountant down the street? No,
but a big reason these companies are leaders is because they’ve successfully built a
personality around their brands.

Name: The first step

How different would you be if your name was Clem or Matilda? Your company
name sets a tone for your brand, right from the start. Names can be generated from
invented words (Xerox), initials (IBM) and founder’s names (Johnson & Johnson).
Some of the best names though communicate a benefit (U-Haul or Budget Car

Logo: Your company’s symbol

A logo is a distinctive symbol or mark that visually represents your company. To get
one that passes muster with the quality police, I recommend hiring a design firm.
Because your logo is one of the first visual brand elements your buyers see, put
some time and money into it.

If your logo will appear on fax cover sheets, fax it to yourself. If it will appear on
billboards, enlarge it to 5 feet and see what it looks like (don’t laugh, I actually did
this for a client). Put your logo through the quality checking paces before you use it.
You’ll be glad you did.

Taglines: A memorable definition

I’m a big believer in taglines. In 10 words or less a good tagline can communicate the
core essence of a brand to the market. And for small businesses, it can be one of the
most efficient marketing weapons in their arsenal.

A tagline is simply a short description of a business’ reason for being. It could
incorporate elements of its expertise, its target audience, even the markets it serves.
A tagline can be both direct and subtle—whatever it takes to get the prospect to say
to themselves “Oh, I get it.”

If you’re unfamiliar with taglines, work with a copywriter or marketing consultant.
In an hour or two, they can take the core essence of your company’s brand and
translate it into a memorable and pithy tagline.

Once you have a tagline, always connect it to your logo as a standard practice. Either
place the tagline below your logo or alongside it. But, whenever your logo appears,
your tagline should there with it.

Fonts and typestyles

Using the proper fonts and typestyles also define your brand. Try to standardize
fonts and typestyles that appear routinely in your marketing materials. Use only a
select few.

Hint: If you’re working with an advertising agency or marketing firm, make sure
their designs use fonts that are readily available. A client of mine once worked with
a designer on some marketing materials. The problem was the designer chose a very
creative font that ended up also being hard to find. In the end, the client had to shell
out hundreds more dollars to buy the font for its printer because they did not have it.

Colors: Creating a mood

How do you feel when you walk into a yellow room? When you see a sign with a
red background color, what’s your first reaction? Colors generate emotional
reactions, and it’s important to carry that over into your branding program.
So, here is a quick list of common colors and the emotions behind them:

Color Emotions behind the color
Red Stop, passion
Yellow Caution, cowardice
Green Go, safe
White Purity, virtue
Black Luxury, prestige
Blue Authority, calm
Orange Strength, stimulation
Brown Warmth, comfort

When deciding on your company’s color, pay attention to the colors used by your
competitors. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by choosing a color already
associated with your competitor.

The sounds of your brand

One company I call on the telephone plays rap over its on-hold system. I don’t know
about you, but I believe there’s more to music than 3 bad chords and rotten lyrics. I
hate being on hold with that company. And their relationship with me suffers ever so
slightly each time I call. If your business has on-hold messaging, or your retail store
has background music, make sure it’s appropriate.

Publish some guidelines

As your company grows, consider developing a brand manual. It can be as simple as
a 3-ring binder that records how you want brand elements to appear. It should cover
the use of your logo, type sizes/fonts/styles, guidelines for color or black and
white, and where certain brand elements should be located on the page or screen.
This is a great resource for internal staff to follow and can also be used for new
employee training.


Your brand shows up in a wide variety of marketing vehicles. To help you identify
all the places your brand can be found, I’ve developed a comprehensive Branding
Checklist. For a free download,
click here.

In the end, hold your branding efforts to the highest standard possible. Spend a little
extra to keep your brand high-quality and consistent across your company. Your
customers (both current and new) will thank you for it.

About the author: Jay Lipe, aka the “Plan Man”, is the CEO of Emerge Marketing; a
firm that helps growing companies improve their marketing. He is the author of the
The Marketing Toolkit for Growing Businesses (Chammerson Press) which is
available at major bookstores and online at He is also a sought
after speaker and seminar leader, and can be reached at (612) 824-4833 or .
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